Investigators said Wednesday that the driver of a rented pickup truck who mowed down people on a busy bike path in New York on Tuesday carried out the attack on behalf of Islamic State.
“He did this in the name of ISIS,” said John Miller, the New York deputy police commissioner.
Miller told reporters that the suspect, Sayfullo Saipov, a 29-year-old Uzbek immigrant who came to the United States in 2010, “appears to have followed almost to a T” advice that Islamic State jihadists have posted on social media on how to carry out a vehicular attack on pedestrians and bicyclists.
He said notes linked to Saipov were found at the scene in the lower Manhattan area of the city, where a 28-year-old New York policeman, Ryan Nash, shot him in the abdomen, ending the mayhem that was carried out over a 20-block stretch alongside the Hudson River.
“The notes were handwritten in Arabic,” Miller said. “They had symbols and words. But the gist of the note was that the Islamic State would endure forever.”
Authorities said Saipov was interviewed before he underwent surgery Tuesday evening for the gunshot wound, but declined to say what Saipov told them. Officials also linked Saipov to social media accounts that contain Islamic State-related material. IS has not officially claimed responsibility.
At least eight people were killed and 12 others injured in the attack, with nine still hospitalized with an array of injuries.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the attack was the “definition of terrorism. This was an attack on our values.” But he said there are no “additional or credible” threats against the city. He urged New Yorkers to “be strong, be proud, be resilient, show the whole world right now, we will not be moved by terror.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called Saipov “a depraved coward” and earlier told CNN that he was “radicalized domestically.”
U.S. President Donald Trump called Saipov “an animal” and said he wants to work with Congress to abolish the immigration lottery under which Saipov entered the United States. Trump said that Saipov “brought in others to U.S.” and was the “point of contact for 23 people.” Trump said he would consider sending the suspect to the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba.
On Tuesday night, within hours of the attack, Trump ordered the country’s Homeland Security agency “to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program,” about immigration into the U.S. “Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!”
On Wednesday, Trump, in a Twitter remark, blamed Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer of New York for allowing “the terrorist” into the U.S., as part of “what is called the ‘Diversity Visa Lottery Program,’ a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based.”
Schumer accused Trump of “politicizing and dividing America, which he always seems to do at times of national tragedy.” Schumer said he has “always believed and continue to believe that immigration is good for America.”
The immigration lottery was part of 1990 U.S. legislation that Schumer, then a member of the House of Representatives, sponsored along with 25 other Democrats and six Republicans.
Cuomo said, “The President’s tweets, I think, were not helpful. I don’t think they were factual. I think they tended to point fingers and politicize the situation. He was referring back to an immigration policy that dealt with a lottery and blaming people who passed that immigration policy. His tweet wasn’t even accurate, as far as I’m concerned. That was a bipartisan law that was passed that had basically no relevance to the facts of this situation.”
Among those killed were five Argentine nationals who were in New York to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their high school graduation, as well as a Belgian.
Tuesday’s incident, involving a rented Home Depot truck, was similar to terrorist vehicle attacks that have been carried out in other Western countries in recent years. New America, a nonpartisan research center, says 15 vehicular attacks have been carried out since 2014, killing more than 140 people.
New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill said around 3:05 p.m. local time Tuesday, the truck entered the bike path, striking riders and pedestrians. The truck also struck a school bus, injuring two adults and two children. The driver then “exited the vehicle brandishing two handguns,” O’Neill said, with the policeman ending the incident by shooting Saipov. A paintball gun and a pellet gun were later found at the scene.
Greg Barton, a professor of global Islamic politics at Deakin University in Australia, said it seems as if the attacker was inspired by IS.
“Islamic State doesn’t claim attacks when the attacker is held in custody and so they probably won’t claim this one,” Barton told VOA. “But there’s no question that we’ve seen many attempted attacks in New York and there will be more attempts in the future.”
Uzbekistan’s president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, said Wednesday the attack was ruthless and cruel, and that his government stood ready to use all means to assist in the investigation.
“We express our feelings of full solidarity to the people of the United States of America,” Mirziyoyev said in a statement posted on the Uzbekistan Foreign Ministry website.
“We strongly condemn the terror truck attack on the innocent civilians in New York City. Our deepest sympathy and condolences to the families who lost their loved ones,” said the Turkistanian American Association of New York and New Jersey, on behalf of the Uzbek community, in a statement sent by email to the Voice of America.
WATCH: RFERL Interview with man who knew suspect
The Cato Institute told VOA only about 40,000 Uzbeks have entered the United States as migrants in the last 20 years, and that of those, only 2 percent arrived as refugees.
For some witnesses, the chaos was reminiscent of images of deadly attacks from across Europe.
“It always seems really distant but then when it’s right next to you, obviously it’s really shocking and disturbing, and you don’t want it to happen to anybody,” said Elizabeth Chernobelsky, who witnessed the crime scene.
Others were left in disbelief. College student Jake Saunders, who barely missed a train at a crucial moment, told VOA he considers himself lucky.
“If I had made that train, I would be right where the shooting is, right there, because that was my destination,” Saunders said.
Police said the driver shouted “Allahu Akbar,” Arabic for “God is great,” when he exited the truck. But when O’Neill was asked whether the suspect shouted the phrase, the commissioner replied, “Yeah. He did make a statement when he exited the vehicle,” although O’Neill declined to elaborate.
The New York Police Department said it will increase the number of officers throughout the city “out of an abundance of caution.”
Ramon Taylor in New York and Victor Beattie in Washington DC contributed to this report